A Need for Community – HOBY Reflections

Often when speaking with those of older generations about what I do, I get a similar reaction: hopelessness.  “Young people are so wrapped up in Facebook or texting that they don’t connect with real people!”  “The youth are so apathetic.”  “Our country, no, our world is going down the pooper when the younger generation takes over!”

Students engaging with issues of Heterosexism at HOBY IL-N

I’ll tell you what.  This weekend I saw something incredible.  At two different times, both at youth leadership conferences, one at HOBY Tennessee and one at HOBY IL North, I stopped, looked around, and realized that there were groups of incredible young people all doing the same thing.  They were sitting together, carrying on some of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, and reflective conversations on race, religion, sexual orientation, sexual violence, gender, class, and ability that I have ever seen.

One of the things that I find in the work that I do is that sometimes it can be hard to have hope.  When I begin to lose hope, I try to remember something that was told to me at the White Privilege Conference, “Only those who come from incredible privilege have the ability to give up hope.”  I can’t give up hope, but sometimes I need more than simply repeating this mantra.  I need community.

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Guilty for Speaking Up – Blaming Survivors of Sexual Violence

Dominique Strauss-Kahn

As many of you undoubtedly know, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, now-former head of the International Monetary Fund and a candidate for President of France, has been accused of raping a hotel housekeeper in New York City.

Cue the survivor blaming.

The letter of the law in the United States requires that someone accused of a crime must be considered innocent until proven guilty. If only the law required such a high standard for a survivor of sexual violence.

This morning when I was reading the New York Times, I came across an article about all of the attention given to the survivor of this allegedly horrific attack.  In situations like the one involving Strauss-Kahn, “the women suffer the collateral damage of our interest” in powerful men.  The article describes the way that we obsess over the women who are tied sexually to powerful men like Strauss-Kahn, whether that obsession regards a consensual relationship like in the recent scandal involving Arnold Swartzenegger or rape.

Almost immediately after the allegations of rape were made against this powerful man, the allegations of fraud and sexual impropriety against the survivor began to pile up.  The common narrative isn’t that a power-obsessed womanizer might have taken his lust one step too far, sexually assaulting a woman who he sees as beneath him.  The NY Post even victimizes the alleged rapist, calling him a “humiliated, 62-year-old suspect” who couldn’t get bail due to his being a flight risk (since if he gets back to France, he will never see a court room).

No. The narrative is that a low-income immigrant woman MUST be lodging fake allegations in hopes of getting rich.

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“Speak American” – Multilingualism and the English-Only Movement

“Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.” – Cesar Chavez

Before offering a blessing on the first day of the White Privilege Conference, Lakota Elder Dave Larson warned the crowd of more than 2000 that he was going to be offering the blessing in a language not native to this land, a language that comes from a small island in the Atlantic.  The island is called England.

Let’s be clear.  The United States has no official language.  It was quite intentionally left out of the constitutional process by the founders.  In fact, those states who have chosen to declare English as their official language can find themselves in a sticky situation if they hope to receive federal funds for citizen services because Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act requires that public entities receiving federal funds must offer vital documents in every language their clients speak.  That’s right.  The U.S. officially endorses your right to have a voter’s ballot in any language you like, and it is the responsibility of the state or federal agency to provide such a document.

322 languages are spoken in the country, with 24 of those spoken in every state and the District of Columbia. California has the most languages, with 207, while Wyoming has the fewest with 56. Declaring an official language would abridge the rights of individuals with limited English proficiency, individuals who are paying taxes and who are entitled to the same rights as those who speak English (Source).

Despite this reality, there is a growing “English Only” movement in the U.S..  I grew up in Grand Junction, CO, not exactly a hub for progressive and inclusive thinking.  Growing up, I cannot tell you how many times I heard people say, “Speak English or get the hell out. If you can’t speak English, you don’t belong here.”  Until I had some amazing mentors start to question some of the things I thought and did, I am ashamed to say that I even believed the sentiment.  I even was known to tell Spanish-speaking people to go back to where they came from.  How could I not?  It’s something that was taught to me by those I trusted, even those in my family.  “They need to learn to speak English” is a common statement when “those illegals” come up at family gatherings, and the anti-immigrant, anti-Spanish-speaking sentiment is undoubtedly tied to the deep-seated racism against Latinos that I, unfortunately, have to struggle to uproot from my subconscious.

Understanding the problematic nature of this sentiment means understanding the history of white, Anglo supremacy in this country.  To say that people must speak English is not an innocent statement rooted in a desire to have a functioning society as is often asserted by those who argue for English-Only legislation.  Demanding, mandating, and forcing those who don’t speak English to do so has been a tool of cultural genocide in the United States for a very long time.  In an effort to “kill the Indian, save the man,” indigenous children were stolen from their families and forced into boarding schools where they were beaten if they spoke their first language.  English was the only language allowed in these boarding schools.  African slaves who spoke the same indigenous languages were separated upon sale to ensure that they could not hold onto their native culture and could not communicate to conspire for freedom.  Those who were found speaking their indigenous language were savagely beaten.  The Chinese Exclusion Act only allowed for Asian immigration of those with high levels of formal education, part of which had to include English-language instruction.

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Masculinity, Heteronormativity, and Sports

I’ve recently begun playing Ultimate Frisbee.  I grew up playing sports almost year-round, dabbling in track and field, baseball, and basketball but with soccer being my true sport of choice.  I played soccer at some high levels and took the sport seriously, getting pretty good at it.  When I transferred to Earlham College in Indiana, though, I decided to put sports on the back burner so that I could focus on things like student government or improv comedy.

Since that time, I’ve found it hard to get back into sports, not necessarily because it was hard to get back into shape (though we all know that can be a challenge).  More so, I find myself having a really hard time playing a sport if I am not good at it.  That’s the problem I had when starting to play Ultimate.  I found throwing a frisbee incredibly awkward and counter-intuitive, and I had a very hard time reading the field.  I was so frustrated that I almost quit.

Now, I’m not much of a quitter, so that gave me pause.  Why did I find being bad at something so incredibly frustrating?  Undoubtedly it has something to do with the perfectionist genes I inherited from my mother, but as I reflected and wrote about it, I found something a little more startling.

I don’t like being bad at things because I’m a man.  I particularly don’t like being bad at sports because I’m a man.

From the time we are VERY young, boys are told that they should be good at all things physical, and I was always pretty good at sports.  I played sports all the time, and these guys were my heroes:

They taught me what it meant to be a man!  You work hard, rise to the top of your game, and are triumphant!  You walk with swagger!  You don’t take crap from anybody!  You fight to the finish!  And you definitely ain’t queer!
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